Flint ethics board says they’ve hit roadblocks in their search for ombudsman, now seeking legal help

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FLINT, MI — The city’s ethics and accountability board said they will seek legal counsel regarding hiring an ombudsman for Flint.  

Board members say they have hit a number of roadblocks with Flint’s human resources department as they search to fill the ombudsman’s post that has been vacant since 2011. 

“I was hoping it would be [filled] before the first of the year,” said Nicholas D’aigle, who represents the city’s fourth ward on the ethics and accountability board.  “Now we’re sitting in July and they’re talks that it could be August or September… We were lead down the wrong road several times.”

“The people of the city of flint… have suffered long enough… “We can no longer let anybody in this city push us around outside of this city charter.” — Flint Ethics and Accountability Board Chair, Allen Gilbert

Board members addressed the issue in a July 9, 2019 meeting, saying they submitted a job description for Flint’s ombudsman’s post about eight months ago but were later told that it was not their job. Another description was then developed by the human resources department but was unsupported by the Flint City Council.

“Everything that we’ve tried to do has been with the main goal to get the ombudsman in,” D’agle said. “[We’ve received] bad information from people, bad guidance on how we are supposed to operate.”.

The 11-person ethics and accountability board was created with appointments from each of the nine Flint city council members representing each of the city’s nine wards and two other appointees came from Mayor Karen Weaver’s office.

Since their appointment, the board has asked for $250,000 to fund the ombudsman’s office including an estimated $70,000 for the ombudsman job alone. The ombudsman’s office is a non-partisan and is responsible for conducting investigations, reporting findings and processing complaints against city departments and staff.

Barbara Purifoy Flint’s last ombudsman said the role is vital during a local radio show on June 29, 2019, with State Rep. Sheldon Neeley.

“The office of the ombudsman is supposed to be an autonomous office and if it tried to work any other way I don’t think it would be as successful,” Purifoy said. “The ombudsman cannot be controlled by another department head or a board or anything like that because you don’t know who these people have allegiance to. During my tenure there, I lost a lot of friends or people I thought were my friends.” Purifoy served for five years before the state did away with the position.

During her tenure, Purifoy said, about 70 percent of the complaints regarded the Flint Police Department. She added that water complaints followed and then complaints of lack of respect from various city departments and employees.

The post became vacant in 2011  after the city fell under state control. 

Flint resident and attorney Terry Bankert who has been working to make sure the city follows Flint’s charter, said the ethics board has more power than it thinks and advised the board to hold a town hall to update residents on the ombudsman’s job.

“You’ve been sitting on the fact and ignoring the fact that you are the ombudsman,” Bankert said. “You have the power, you can call a public hearing right now. You can intake complaints right now and you’re not.”

Under the city’s charter which was revised and voted on by residents in 2018 the ethics and accountability board and an ombudsman were supported. Applications for the ombudsman job will be accepted through Thursday, July 12, 2019, according to the city’s website. It was posted on May 20.

Board members said they have not been privy to the application process.  As it stands, the ethics board is prepared to talk to the Genesee County Bar Association seeking help in filling the position and bypassing the administration.

“The people of the city of flint… have suffered long enough,” said board chair Allen Gilbert.  “We can no longer let anybody in this city push us around outside of this city charter.”

 

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